History of Wisconsin Light newspaper, written by Jamakaya and reproduced here courtesy of In Step:
The first issue of Wisconsin Light appeared on Nov. 20, 1987 under the direction of Publisher Jerry Johnson and Editor Terry Boughner. The front page banner included the motto: “Give the People Light and they will find their own way.”
The premiere issue indicates that Wisconsin Light was initiated as a direct successor to OUT, a small monthly newspaper based in Madison which had ceased publication that summer. IN Step, in a 5-1/2” by 8-1/2” magazine format at that time, was primarily covering the bar scene, and many activists felt a need to launch a new publication that would include a fuller array of news and commentary. Ron Geiman, publisher of IN Step, supported the effort.
The first issues of Wisconsin Light came out monthly, but by the spring of 1988, in hopes of raising more advertising revenue and accommodating the increasing volume of news copy by and about gays, a decision was made to publish bi-weekly. This the Light did consistently until March of 1999, when it went weekly.
High water marks for Wisconsin Light during its 12-1/2 year history include its extensive coverage of the Jeffrey Dahmer case in 1991-92. The Light published an “Extra” edition on Aug. 1, 1991 to provide timely information on many aspects of the mass murder, which had a dramatic impact on the city’s gay and lesbian community. The Light scooped the mainstream media with information on some of Dahmer’s victims and past evidence of Milwaukee police officers’ harassment and insensitivity to gays. The Light’s coverage of the Dahmer case won awards from the National Gay and Lesbian Press Association.
On Nov. 6, 1997, Wisconsin Light published a 120-page anniversary issue called “A Decade of Light.” It included a massive timeline of all major LGBT events -- local, statewide and national -- that had been reported in the Light since its founding, along with hundreds of photos of those events, most taken by Jerry Johnson. It stands as the most thorough history ever compiled of that 10-year period of LGBT life in Wisconsin.
On the debit side, the Light was often marred by typographical errors which rendered words or headlines incomprehensible. Sometimes it caused inadvertent humor, like the time Light reported that a gay editor had been “fried” (rather than “fired”) for outing someone. The final issue was true to form with the following tribute: “Congratulations to Hilary Swank for his Best Actress Oscar...”
In June of 1998, Johnson and Boughner sold the Wisconsin Light to Greg Quindel and another unnamed investor. “Jerry and I spent ten years plus and we did the best we possibly could,” former editor Terry Boughner told IN Step. “We’re very proud of the national reputation we built for the Light. But it was time to hand it off to others. ‘Hail and farewell!’ was our attitude. There comes a point you just have to let go. I don’t regret it. Now Jerry and I have a life again.”
Bill Meunier, a longtime political columnist for Wisconsin Light, was named editor and Ron Geiman, who had sold IN Step to Bill Attewell and Jorge Cabal in 1996, was named publisher. At the end of 1998, Light announced that Greg Quindel would take over as publisher and the newspaper would begin publishing weekly. Its first weekly issue debuted in March, 1999. Exactly one year later, the Light published its final issue.
As the paper grew in size in 1998 and into 1999 (and as it approached going weekly), it lost much of its local content. For example, the "Spotlight' page, which had previously typically highlighted a Wisconsin bar or organization, was more likely to showcase a recent movie or national celebrity. Coverage of national movies and celebrities was a common theme, crowding out more local articles that might have put the spotlight on newer Wisconsin-based organizations or LGBT businesses. As such, later volumes of the paper are less useful to Wisconsin LGBT historians.
As with many other LGBT papers and magazines at the time nationally, the paper was bombarded with large paid adertisements for national internet and 800 call-in sex lines. The paper tried to segregate those ads in a new 'Section X' (and later as 'Purely Personal'), which they ran as the middle four pages of the paper (with separate page numbering), allowing it to be easily pulled out and discarded if so desired. At first it was even printed upside down to better differentiate the contents.
There were some struggles to maintain the paper in 1999. As early as September 1999, with volume 12 issue 34, there were obvious signs of stress. In addition to the decision to go weekly the prior year (in hopes of better ad revenue), editor Bill Meunier was appointed to become Director of Internet Development in hopes of leveraging internet content as another revenue stream, and a new editor (Nadine A. Walther) was selected after a three-month search, starting with the January, 2000 issue (vol 13-no. 5).
The end was not a surprise either. Just a few issues prior, the Publisher, Greg Quindel, had printed a "Letter from the Publisher" describing the challenges faced in publishing a weekly newspaper, and in which he described his efforts to reach out to the other two Wisconsin LGBT publications (IN Step and Quest) about cooperative efforts. Several issues then came out with layout problems, using only about 85% of the available space on each page. Despite all their attempts to save it, the paper would shut down within six months.
An article in 'IN Step' outlined more details of the paper's history and demise. Highlights from that atrticle: (or view the full In Step article announcing Wisconsin Light's demise here.)
Why Did The Light Fold? “We were losing money as a bi-weekly,” Light publisher Quindel told IN Step. “We did a careful financial analysis of the bi-weekly vs. weekly format and determined that our chances for success were better if we had 52 revenue producing days than if we had only 26. But we didn’t anticipate the pressure on ad rates and we could have used more marketing support at the time we went weekly.”
Quindel’s strategy was also tied to his goal for consolidating LGBT publishing in the state through a merger of the existing publications. He stated in numerous “Publisher’s Notes” in the Light that he believed the only way a weekly newspaper with full-time staff could be viable was if all the LGBT publications joined together.
But Mark Mariucci, publisher of Quest (magazine), stated publicly he was not interested in a merger. At IN Step (newspaper), Attewell made no public response to Quindel’s proposals over the past year, preferring to keep private any discussions that may have taken place. Several gay leaders who have observed the ups and downs of local gay publishing noted that in the past few years IN Step has strengthened its position both financially and editorially and there was no reason for IN Step to either sell or merge.
The Wisconsin Light newspaper was resurrected briefly late 2001 by the original Publisher Jerry Johnson, starting with Volume 14- Issue 1. Unfortunately this attempt was short-lived; the newspaper again ceased publication after April 2002 (after Volume 15- Issue 7). These issues are not widely available.
The final demise was described in an article in 'Wisconsin In Step' newspaper (Vol. 19 issue 9, May 2-15, 2002) as follows:
The Wisconsin Light Ceases Publication / by William Attewell
Milwaukee — The Wisconsin Light, one of most long-lived GLBT newspapers in the state ceased publication and ended a seven month comeback run after publishing its final issue on April 11. Publisher Jerry Johnson cited the lack of advertising revenue as the main cause for the paper's demise.
"We simply didn't have sufficent advertising," Johnson told Wisconsin IN Step. "The vast majority of local GLBT businesses have never supported the local gay press with advertising and that is not good for the community." "After 15 issues [advertising support for the Wisconsin Light] hadn't changed much. We had to ask ourselves— why keep going on and on?" Johnson explained further.
The Wisconsin Light had previously ceased publication the spring of 2000. However, Johnson brought the paper back in September of last year citing pressure from former readers and advertisers. Johnson said the expected advertising support never materialized after its re-launch last year, leaving the paper unable to expand as planned, with additional writers, features and sections.
The first issue of Wisconsin Light appeared on Nov. 20, 1987 under the direction of Publisher Jerry Johnson and Editor Terry Boughner. In June of 1998, Johnson and Boughner sold the Wisconsin Light to Greg Quindel and another unnamed investor.
Late in 2020, thanks to the donation of a large scanner to the Wisconsin LGBT History Project, we undertook a project to scan all available issues of the Wisconsin Light newspaper (those held in the collection of web site founder Don Schwamb). Each issue is scanned and saved into individual PDF files, which were also OCR'd so they are text-searchable. Those files are all accessible through the 'Cover Gallery' links above.
Credits: Web site concept and design by Don Schwamb.
Bulk of information from an article in InStep magazine, author Jamakaya;
other info and photos from the archives of Wisconsin Light, Johnson/Boughner; and Don Schwamb.
Individual issues scanned, saved as PDF and made text-searchable via OCR by Don Schwamb.
Last updated: December-2021.
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